INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO.760
Counter-terrorism agencies and the Police are taken by surprise when terrorists strike for the first time using a new modus operandi (MO). This is natural. We had seen this happen in Mumbai in March,1993, in the US on 9/11, in Madrid in 2004, in London in 2005 and some other places.
2. In other countries after such surprises, the Police and other investigating agencies manage to do a thorough investigation, reconstruct the crime, identify deficiencies that facilitated the successful terrorist strikes and strengthen preventive measures to see that similar strikes are not repeated.
3. India is a country where the terrorists manage to strike again and again using the same MO and often similar material without the police being able to prevent this happening. Since 1993, when Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the New York World Trade Centre with a truckload of ammonium nitrate, a commonly used fertiliser, terrorists in different parts of the world started using ammonium nitrate as the explosive base if they are not able to lay hand on military-grade explosives. Instances of such use of ammonium nitrate have been considerably prevented in other countries through an effective regulatory mechanism to control the sale of ammonium nitrate and its pilferage from the stocks of agriculturists authorised to buy them.
4. Even though terrorists in India have also been repeatedly using ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil in their improvised explosive devices (IEDs), our police and counter-terrorism agencies have not so far been able to put in place an effective regulatory mechanism to prevent the use of ammonium nitrate for acts of terrorism. According to media reports, ammonium nitrate was the explosive base used in the Pune blasts of August 1,2012.
5. Many of our terrorist strikes remain inadequately investigated and unsuccessfully prosecuted. The two major exceptions to this were the March 1993 serial explosions in Mumbai and the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. The arrests of some members of the Memon family when they returned to India from Karachi and their interrogation contributed to the successful investigation and prosecution of the Indian perpetrators of the March 1993 explosions. The capture of Ajmal Kasab, one of the Pakistani perpetrators of the 26/11 strikes, led to the successful detection and prosecution. If Kasab had also been killed, it is doubtful whether there would have been a successful prosecution.
6. The so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) has carried out a number of strikes using IEDs at least since 2007, if not earlier, in different cities of India. None of these cases has so far led to a successful prosecution though many arrests were made. An alibi often advanced by our police and agencies for the inadequate investigation of these cases is that the three leaders of the IM operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan.
7.This alibi does not explain why we are not able to investigate thoroughly and completely what has been happening in our territory. The fact that the leaders operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan can explain our not being able to collect information and evidence about their activities and their contacts with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). But, this cannot explain our inability to collect details regarding their foot jihadis in India, their accomplices, their sleeper cells and their sources of material required for IEDs.
8. The IM has often been using the MO of planting the IEDs in bicycles. All we are able to find out is wherefrom they procured the cycles, which is easy to find out and does not require special investigative skills. But we seem to be still in the dark about their sources of procurement of detonators, which can normally be procured only from quarries, mines and construction companies and the storage depots of the security forces which stock detonators for professional use.
9. There have been very few instances of an IM perpetrator being caught red-handed as Kasab was. Most of our reconstruction is, therefore, based on statements of suspects arrested and interrogated after the commission of an act of terrorism.Their interrogation is apparently not able to provide a continuous and unbroken narrative of how the terrorist strike was planned and executed, resulting in inadequate detection and prosecution.
10. These deficiencies in our counter-terrorism preventive and investigation machinery cannot be removed merely by setting-up the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). There is a need for a determined attempt to improve the investigation skills of the Police in terrorism-related cases in the States. ( 3-8-12)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: email@example.com . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )